Medical and Science: Warm Up for Fencing

Warm upBy Lindsay Bottoms (Exercise Physiologist) and Jonathan Rhodes (Sports Performance Consultant). Written for The Sword: British Fencing Magazine, April 2015. 

As sports people we have all been told we should warm up prior to taking part in sport, be it training or competition, to reduce the likelihood of injury and prevent the dreaded delayed onset of muscle soreness, often felt in the 72 hours following exercise. The most common warm up, especially in fencing (from our experience), is a 3 phase one, which includes a cardiovascular element (such as running), static stretching and a task specific element such as pairs work in fencing. This style of warm up has been passed on from coach to coach for many years and no one used to question why we did it. However, in the last decade researchers have begun to question whether this is the best way to prepare the body for performing sport. Research now shows that static stretching (and foam rollering) prior to exercise can impact negatively on performance as a result of decreasing muscle strength and power, which in turn reduces jump height and speed. In a sport such as fencing this can have a significant impact on performance as explosive power is a critical component. Static stretching has also been shown to have no impact on reducing the incidence of injuries during training and competition. Therefore, we should avoid performing static stretching prior to fencing. This does not mean there is no place for static stretching, it is still important as part of a cool down to increase flexibility which will ultimately have a positive impact on performance. But static stretches should remain after exercise and not before.

In recent years many coaches have started to recommend performing dynamic stretches as an alternative to static stretching. Dynamic stretching involves more controlled movement through the active range of motion for a joint, and incorporates callisthenics movements (e.g. lunging) and running drills that include forward, lateral and change of direction movements. Research shows that dynamic stretching has positive effects on power, sprint and jump performance. Therefore, dynamic stretching would be more beneficial to add to a fencing warm up than static stretching.

Further developments into research regarding warm ups shows that a sport specific warm up is more effective than both dynamic and static stretching. Instead of having a 3 phase warm up, a 2 phase warm up would be more beneficial such that you perform the cardiovascular warm up and then undertake a fencing specific activity. I know many individuals who do fencing do not like running, therefore a cardiovascular activity could just be performing fencing footwork at a light intensity forwards and backwards across a sports hall, then gradually increase the intensity of the footwork. Following this undertake a warm up fight with another fencer. This will be the most appropriate warm up for fencing and it will put you in the right mind set for fencing. We must not forget that there is a large cognitive element to fencing and therefore before training and competition we want to make sure we are alert and going to react to our opponent. Therefore, there is no better warm up than doing fencing specific movements to prepare you for high powered, fast, and agile movements on the piste. This is not to say do not stretch, but stretch for the movements you are about to perform. This means the body is sufficiently warm and you are less likely to get injuries.

With this two-tiered warm up, it is easier to think of the warm up as “kit off” and “kit on”. Functional movements to prepare you for fencing, followed by “kit on” and fencing to warm up. To start with it is wise to talk to your sparring partner and warm up your hand and legs by telling them that you are going to perform step lunges. That way you can find your distance and timing in a safe tempo. After you have both hit a few times it is then time to fence to win. This part of the warm up is key, as you should fence at 100% intensity and focus. This completes the physical and mental warm up, and increases the work-rate in the first poule fight whilst minimising the injuries throughout.


Lessons from London 2012 and their application to Rio 2016

As a self-employed sports consultant, I was overwhelmed when three of the athletes I work with were selected for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Working in a minority sport, I knew there would not be scope for me to attend to every step of the way; but like all good sports consultants, I was committed to doing the best I could to ensure these athletes performed at their peak when required. This paper follows my journey as performance coach with one Olympic athlete and the National coach, reviewing practice along the way through interviews, conferences, research, journal entries and the social media. It has led me to what some will see as a surprising conclusion; namely, that most sports science is not used in a functional way. Although my analysis is qualitative, I hope this account of what I did or observed will help us to rethink strategies going forward to Rio 2016.

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London 2012: Truro fencers dominate GB Olympic team

The London 2012 Olympic Games are only two weeks away and athletes are now tapering for performance. This is the most precise and important time of the four-year (/lifetime) preparation where every second counts. I have been very fortunate over the past couple of years to work in fencing with outstanding athletes and importantly, coaches. The hard-work of everyone has paid off with 3 of the fencers at Truro Fencing Club being selected to compete in the Individual events at the Olympics.  

James Honeybone commented: I know I can achieve a medal place otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I have beaten guys in the top 10 in the world this season, and know if I fence my best, there is no one I can’t beat.

You can watch the Olympic Sabre Fencing with James competing on 29th July and the Womens Sabre on the 1st August. It’s not about luck, it’s about preparation.


Hypokinetic Disease and the Exercise Professional

I was recently asked to consider how interventions could prevent hypokinetic disease. Hypokinetic diseases occur from a small amount of movement, perhaps due to injury or sedentary lifestyles. The consequences of hypokinetic diseases (or chronic illnesses) are obesity, osteoporosis, lower back pain, cardiac disease and cancer to name a few. In researching correlations surrounding hypokinetic disease, it was straightforward to find that Obesity was the primary cause of all forms of subsequent illness. In the UK, 1 in every 4 people is obese. Obesity alone costs the National Health Service £4.2 billion per year (2007), with estimated costs rising in 2015 to £6.2 billion.

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Functional Training and the Football Free-Kick

This blog should be called “problem solving” as that’s really what functional training is. I pride myself on being a functional conditioning professional, but what does that really mean and who qualifies for this fictitious title? In short (before I get on my soap box and tell you who cannot), anyone with extensive hours with athletes in the field – applying function to the gym, qualifies AND anyone who has Continue reading “Functional Training and the Football Free-Kick”


LTAD notes delivered at Loughborough University and Southern Region Coaching Conference

During the summer, I delivered a series of workshops and seminars on Long Term Athlete Development and I had much interest from delegates asking where they could find suggestions on individual training parameters dependant on maturation. As I said in the workshops – Peak Height Velocity (PHV) is the best correlation to windows of trainability and these notes (below) should be used as a guideline only. Continue reading “LTAD notes delivered at Loughborough University and Southern Region Coaching Conference”


Overtraining and the use of Training Diaries

As performance coaches, it is our aim to ensure that the athletes we work with perform at their physical and mental peak during competitions.  It is important to overload our body to elicit physiological adaptations such as muscular efficiency, motor skill control, and increased fitness levels.  However, sufficient rest is also imperative. Continue reading “Overtraining and the use of Training Diaries”